By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
If the federal government shuts down again at the end of this week, local services cannot make up for the hit to the food stamp system.
The federally funded food stamp program, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), helps feed 6,200 people in Wood County. When the federal government was shutdown for 35 days earlier this year, local officials expressed concern about how the food assistance would continue.
Those officials last week warned the Wood County Commissioners that local government cannot replace the food program if it is again crippled by the federal government.
Dave Wigent, director of the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services, told the commissioners that the SNAP system helps people truly in need.
“The community has a bias against the poor,” Wigent said.
“The majority of the people in the program are children or elderly,” he said. “They are not able-bodied men sitting at home drinking.”
Many of the 3,000 households getting SNAP have family members who are disabled.
“The program really does help folks who need it,” Wigent said.
If the looming federal shutdown occurs again, those families will be hurting – and there won’t be enough local funding to compensate, he said.
Wood County Commissioner Doris Herringshaw asked about domino effect of the shutdown. Does the loss of food stamps create even more dire straits for families, she asked.
Definitely, Wigent replied.
“It’s systemic. Those people don’t just go away,” he said.
Problems started by a lack of food at home, tend to show up elsewhere. Children start showing up at school without lunches. Parents react to the stress of not having enough food.
“Then we would have children streaming into Children’s Services,” which deals with abused and neglected children, Wigent said.
When the shutdown lingered throughout January, the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services rushed to get food assistance out to local SNAP recipients, explained Laura Seifert, administrator of the Income Maintenance Unit. Workers came in on a weekend to ensure that the support got out before the federal funds were gone, she said.
However, while that effort made sure local residents got their food assistance for February, local officials are now concerned that some families may not work to stretch those funds out through this month.
So eligible SNAP families will receive half of their March benefits on February 22, and the rest of the benefits will be issued on the normal March issuance date.
While meeting with the county commissioners last week, Wigent also updated them about the demands on the Children’s Services and Adult Protective Services of the county.
In 2018, Children’s Services saw a slight increase in the number of abuse and neglect investigations – with 884 compared to 873 the prior year.
The opioid crisis is having an impact, Wigent said. “There are lots and lots of heroin-addicted infants.”
Meanwhile, the number of older adult abuse, neglect and exploitation investigations have “gone up through the roof,” Wigent said. When he started with Job and Family Services, the department averaged 40 cases a year. Last year, there were 350 investigations.